“…WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SO GREAT A CLOUD OF WITNESSES…” (Hebrews 12:1)

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,

Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be.

"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great
a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and
the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with
endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto
Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith who for the
the joy that was before Him endured the Cross, despising
the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the
Throne of God. For consider Him Who endured such
hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you
become weary and discouraged in your souls" (Hebrews 12:1-3)

"…Still, others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains
and imprisonment. They were STONED, THEY WERE SAWN IN TWO,
WERE TEMPTED, WERE SLAIN WITH THE SWORD. They wandered about
in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–OF
WHOM THE WORLD WAS NOT WORTHY. They wandered in deserts and
mountains, in dens and caves of the earth" (Hebrews11:36-38).

One distinguishing and certainly truly unique Orthodox Christian tradition is the VENERATION OF THE SAINTS. The Saints of our Holy Orthodox Church are the Christian heroes and heroines of our Faith. I am referring to the millions of men, women, and children who "fought the good fight," and won. Who gave their lives to the service and glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. "The lives and praises of the Saints are like the stars in brilliance. Because of their number, we do not know the names of all the Saints; still, they amaze us by their radiant majesty, as do the stars, which while fixed in their position in the heavens illumine all that is below, being seen by us, shining upon the land and guiding by their light those at sea. Similarly, the radiance of the Saints, though their holy relics be entombed in sepulchers, is not bounded by the ends of this earth here below. Therefore, we marvel at their lives and are amazed at how God has glorified them that please Him." (Saint Symeon Metraphrastes)

Among the holy people of God are the holy, and venerable Prophets, and righteous men and women of the Old Testament. The Greek word προφήτης (prophetes) derived from πρόφημι, means FORETELL, that is, TO TELL BEFOREHAND. In Hebrew, the word "prophet" (nabi) meant not necessarily one who foretold the future, but ONE COMMISSIONED BY GOD TO SPEAK TO MAN. What is rightly described as prophecy, not because it predicts future events, but BECAUSE IT UNCOVERS HIDDEN TRUTHS."

Christians were and are still referred to as "saints." They are the "holy people of God." Also, "the way,", the "disciples of Christ." The disciples were called Christians in Antioch for the first time. Of all the attributes man ascribes to God, that of HOLINESS expresses the innermost entity to which all others are related. "Holiness embodies the sense of the incomprehensible and an inarticulate feeling which is outside and beyond, but, at the same time, present and near to the everyday experience and heart of man…Therefore, it is the revelation of the PRESENCE OF HOLINESS that stimulates man’s innate tendency to worship…Wherefore God’s presence is felt, there man meets with the mystery and awesomeness of His holiness. The intimacy of God’s Holiness depends upon man’s faith, activities, and conduct. This holiness is granted TO ALL WHO ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT IT, for as "He Who calls you is Holy, be holy yourselves IN ALL YOUR CONDUCT" (1 Peter 1:15). This call to holiness is especially needed in our society today.

In Catechism one learns that in the Creation God created man in His "image" and after His "likeness," and although man fell into sin through ARROGANCE AND DISOBEDIENCE, God in His compassion now offers fallen man salvation and the chance to regain his state of sanctity. It is written as a covenant and promises that the state of holiness is offered to man, for "You shall be holy, for I (God) am Holy" (1 Peter 1:16). This Divine offer, however, depends upon man’s acceptance. It means that one will attain a state of holiness through the sincere change from arrogance and disobedience to HUMBLENESS AND OBEDIENCE.

The Orthodox Christian grows up hearing about the Saints of the Church. However, who are these Saints? and why are their lives so important to us? According to our Holy Tradition, "To those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints," is the call that the Almighty God makes to everyone today to enter the state of holiness and sainthood (1 Corinthians 1:2). This calling to sainthood applies to the faithful members of the Church who share the blessing of this divine testament as holy people of a Holy God. Christians are saints by virtue of being "in Christ Jesus," Philippians 1:1." The first people to be called saints were the holy Martyrs, who died for their strong faith and conviction and confession of Christian beliefs and practices.

The Holy Martyrs and Saints of the Church are honored in various ways. On the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Saint, the Orthodox Christians gather in the church where they offer the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist), and the local priest speaks about the life, deeds, and miracles attributed to the Saint. We, as Orthodox Christians, are inspired by their pious and virtuous lives and attempt to emulate them in our personal lives. We invite them to also intercede to God on our behalf, believing them to be much closer to Him. They gave up their lives out of faith and love and for the glory and honor of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When the Orthodox Christian is baptized, he or she, receives the name of one of the Saints of the Church who then becomes his/her protector and intercessor Saint. We are taught to honor our Saint by living according to his/her holy example and to attend the Divine Liturgy on his/her feast-day and receive Holy Communion on the feast-day.

The veneration of the Saints is one of the greatest Orthodox Christian traditions and it a holy tradition that must be continued. In today’s secular world, however, people are influenced by its many and worldly enticements. Today’s Orthodox Christians are at risk and in danger of losing their Orthodox Christian identity and spiritual roots if they do not stay connected with the Church. In the fifty-one years that I have served our Savior Jesus Christ, I have seen dramatic changes throughout the world and concerning changes among our Orthodox faithful. What is frightening is that there are to many of our Orthodox faithful know even the basic beliefs of our Faith. The Orthodox kat’ oikon ekklesia (the home church) is devasted and practically non-existent. In many instances the Orthodox Christian home is devoid of any spiritual life i.e., there is no prayer, there are hardly any holy icons in the house, there is no regular worship as a family, there is no religious discussion, no mention about the Lives of the Saints, especially about the personal Patron Saint of the child/ren, Christian morality and values is hardly touched upon, they have absolutely no knowledge or even participation of the sacraments, there is no discussion about self-respect, respect of others, and respect for life. It is a fact that children are thirsty and yearn to know more about the faith in which they weree baptized in as well as the Orthodox Christian Tradition. What does it mean to be an Orthodox Christian? They also are looking for role models to emulate and follow. The world and society produce it own role models, i.e., from the sports world, to actors in Hollywood, as well as enetertainment. Christian children should be guided by their parents to emulate our Christian Saints and personalities rather than people who may not even believe in God or have any values or ethics.

Sadly, my good friends, due to the lack of knowledge and implementation of the Orthodox Christian faith, it has been reported in recently by our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese that we are losing over %65 per cent of our young adults, either to other religions or to no religion at all. Another contributing factor may be the great increase in inter-Christian marriages where the spouses do not share a common Christian faith. It is true that when the husband and wife do not share a common Christian faith at home, that in order to avoid conflict within the marrige and family that Orthodoxy suffers. The reality is that the children of that family are caught between two opposing Christian traditions. I have witnessed it personally where children are totally confused and don’t know where they belong. The problem becomes more acute when they grow older and become young adults and independent of their parents and need to chose for themselves a place to worship and where to belong. What happens much of the time according to the Church authorities is to either join another religion or ignore religion all together. For some of our young adults it may not be that difficucult to convert to another religion since they don’t know much about Orthodoxy. the Faith in which they were baptized in. I personally consider this situation very frightning and alarming to say the least. This should be considered, in my humble opinion, a major emergency facing our Orthodox Church. However, my question is shouldn’t there be an outcry, concern, action, and an alarm? Thus far there is only silence, and the silence is deafening!

All of us are concerned of someone stealing our identity, and consider it a deplorable criminal act, and of course a violation of our person when it happens. But how do we feel when our religious identity is threatened or violated? How to react and what kind of measures do we take to protect it? Of course, we all know that it is not only about the identity that we are concerned with but also about our children’s salvation. The Orthodox Church is unquestionably the Authentic Church of Christ, and therefore, salvation is found within it. Our children are protected by us throughout their lives from all kinds of dangers and threats, should they not also be protected from questionable and dangerous religions and cults? Should they not be given the chance to discover our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and be saved? Our children need to be in worship, at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, and NOT on a soccer field or a baskeball court. Why are the Christian parents currently placing entertainment and sports above the Lord and the Holy Church? Listen to what the Holy Bible says, "When parents brought to Him (Jesus) that He might put His hands on them and pray, the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "LET THE LITTLE CHILDREN COME TO ME, AND DO NOT FORBID THEM FOR OF SUCH IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. And He laid His hands on them" (St. Matthew 19:13-15).

"The disciples thought that bringing children to Jesus diminished His dignity as Teacher and Master. Christ therefore show that He especially accepts THE GUILELESSNESS OF A LITTLE CHILD, saying, "Let the little children come unto Me, for of such is the Kingdom of heaven." He does not say, "of these," but "of such," that is, the Kingdom of heaven belongs TO THOSE WHO HAVE SIMPLICITY, GUILESESSNESS AND INNOCENSE" (Saint Theophylactos).

Let us not betray Our Savior Jesus Christ and our Orthodox Christian Tradition, and Faith. Instead, let us make God real in our Orthodox Christian home. To truly feel His presence through prayer, through the veneration of the holy icons, by annually blessing of our home, by living daily a genuine Christian life. In addition, by emulating the holy and virtuous lives of our Saints, by receiving the Holy Eucharist freequently and participating in the Sacrament of Repentance/Confession as a family, by being obedient and adhering to the Divine Commandments of God, by acts of mercy, and living the new life in Christ.

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers and Mothers,
Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us and
save us. Amen.

_________________________

"Glory Be To GOD
For
All Things!"

– Saint John Chrysostomos

+ + +

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+ Father George

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